Students dig in to History Day

By Samantha Smith

Middle and high school students across northeast Ohio visited Youngstown State University April 1 for History Day. 

Students created projects that were displayed in DeBartolo Hall, Kilcawley Center and the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor for the event.

National History Day originated in 1974. As stated by the National History Day organization, “National History Day is a nonprofit education organization improving the teaching and learning of history.”

David Simonelli, a history professor at YSU, explained some of the ways students can be involved with History Day.

“It is usually easiest described as sort of a science fair for history kids. It’s a similar sort of competition where students do five different types of projects. They can do documentaries, online exhibits, papers, performances or websites on historical subjects related to that year’s theme,” Simonelli said.

Each year, the NHD organization decides a theme for History Day. This year’s theme was Frontiers in History. 

“This year’s theme is Frontiers in History, so kids will do something like Marie Curie as a pioneer, as a woman scientist. Jackie Robinson as like the first modern black baseball player. The Pony Express traveling back and forth across the American Frontier, the 1860’s, those sorts of things,” Simonelli said.

Roughly 250 students participated in the event with 55 judges looking over each project.

Students from Saint Rose Catholic School, Hubbard High School, Notre Dame Elementary School and Hawken Upper School visited YSU for the event.

Simonelli said the number of students has doubled in recent years. With the increase in attendance, preparation for the event is a year-long effort with January through March being the most intense. 

“It’s really an all-year-long kind of thing, but it’s really most intense in January, February and March. There’s always something going on,” Simonelli said. “We sometimes get local politicians that’ll serve as judges. We try to recruit schools to join in the next year’s competition, stuff like that. So there’s always something going on as far as history goes.”

Graduate students in the history department have helped put together History Day throughout the years. With the history graduate program now being cut, Simonelli said more of the work will be put on him.

“We’re going to lose that workforce for the future. I’m not as concerned about it as I was previously, but it means that a lot of the work is going to fall on my head,” Simonelli said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to get some volunteers in the community, like parents and stuff like that — that’ll help out with it. But we’re not at that stage yet.”

Simonelli said History Day is an event that is educational for everyone including the university and community.

“It’s good for YSU, it’s good for the local community, it’s good for history, in general, as a field to get kids interested and excited about doing these sorts of projects. I don’t think I’m just making it up that [the kids] are excited about it,” Simonelli said.